Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Galileo Paperback – January 11, 1994
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Bertolt Brecht uses the life of Galileo to comment upon his own times and conditions but it is the strength of the play that it would and could reflect upon the entire human condition and situations where a new truth challenges a well established ideology.
The story is well established in history that Galileo discovered various aspects around the movement of the planets and the moon which challenged Christian orthodoxy, he is allowed some flexibility by the church in recognition of his status, but eventually he is forced to recount his writings as fictitious and not reflective of the larger truth taught by Christianity. It is to Brecht’s great credit that the Cardinals, Pope, Bishop, and inquisitors are for the most part portrayed as highly educated, sophisticated men who greatly appreciated how a challenge to Christian orthodoxy could be the first step in undermining the entire conceptual faith model that Christianity had built over a period of 1000 years. To allow that the earth revolves around the sun opens up the possibility that there was not a virgin birth or a resurrection, concepts on which Christianity hangs. Galileo was up against wise men, not fools, and they were strong defenders of the Christian conceptual model and the infrastructure of the church which is built upon that conceptual foundation.
There are some interpretations of the play, which are certainly as valid as my interpretation, that the play is about how scientists may be used by the political powers to do harm rather than to do good to mankind. The problem I have with this interpretation is that often scientists have no idea all of the potential uses of the science they produce. Once knowledge is developed and released, it is actually out of the control of the scientist and he or she cannot stop the use of that knowledge for bad ends. It is actually rare for a scientist to make a discovery and immediately realize how it might be put to criminal or evil ends, thus requiring the scientist to hide the truth. The concept as to whether it is possible to hide truth is explored in the final scenes of the play when Galileo reveals that while appearing to bow to the authority of the Church, he has been writing a book that challenges the prevailing concepts of the cosmos.
When a system of truth, such as Christianity, becomes fully institutionalized, then there is considerable force and energy expended to support that truth system. The Roman Catholic Church is an outstanding example of this in that the truth they support has been fine tuned so that all parts run smoothly and thus a challenge to any part of the well oiled conceptual machinery is a threat to the entire conceptual machine. Notice that the Princes of the Church are very sophisticated and Galileo treats them as such. Galileo knows he must comply with their demands, he does so, is allowed to live in peace, while secretly he continues his work and especially his writing which he knows will live on past him. The disgust that Galileo expresses toward himself seems to be less about the fact that science may be used or misused and rather is related to wounded pride and ego that he has been put in the position of having to hide his work and perform outward humility toward a system that he doubts is valid. What good would have come of it had Galileo refused to cooperate and been tortured and possibly burned at the stake? This would have made his oppressors appear more inhumane but it does nothing to move truth forward. Science is a social construct to a degree but empiricism and observability are on its side which tilts the scales toward eventual dissemination of knowledge and building a social infrastructure around that truth system.
One reviewer indicated that Galileo demonstrates moral cowardice in that he allowed the power structure to crush him into recanting his work and that he also denied those who could benefit from his work. Maybe this is what Brecht meant, but I certainly think the issue is more complex. Galileo, like many brilliant persons, recognized fully the cognitive gifts he had been given and thus his torture and executive would be to no good purpose. His deal with the forces of oppression bought him time in which to fully explore.
The introduction by Eric Bentley is very interesting and the fact that Brecht wrote two endings of the play is fascinating and certainly supports the multiple lessons or meanings that can be obtained from his play. I wish both versions of the play were published here since Brecht’s struggle with this play and the messages he wished to convey would be fascinating reading. It is the final version, which was published and seen by the public in dramatic performances that is published here.
To its credit, the APA formally condemned such collaboration. But the whole sordid incident reminds us (as if we need reminding) that when men and women of science allow their knowledge to be misused, either out of cowardice or misguided patriotism, science can become a horrible tool for exploitation and destruction. This, in a nutshell, is the central theme of Brecht's second version of "Galileo."
The play is one of Brecht's best. Written with a nondidactic hand, the play is anything but dreary socialist realism. At times funny and at other times incredibly sad, the sober message that it is the scientist's responsibility to make sure that his or her discoveries are used properly runs throughout. In abjuring his physics under threats from the Inquisition, Brecht's Galileo displays moral cowardice: first, because he allows established power to usurp his discoveries, and second because he lets down the people who could most profit from his specific discoveries as well as the spirit of unfettered inquiry that generated them. As Galileo says at one point in the play, "The practice of science would seem to call for valor."
Several reviewers have remarked that the introduction by Eric Bentley is long-winded and have accordingly reduced their rating for the book. This strikes me as odd for two reasons. First, presumably one purchases "Galileo" to read Brecht, not attached commentary. If the commentary is good, that's just a bonus. But the center of attention surely is the play itself. Second, for all his long-windedness, Bentley's thesis is cogent and, I think, important: that historical drama properly seeks to shed light on its own time by appealing to past events. It's not important that Brecht reinvents Galileo for his play. After all, he isn't writing history. What's significant is the way in which Galileo becomes a symbol that can shed light on our own understanding of science and moral responsibility. Truth ought never to be reduced simply to fact.
* Galileo's final self-judgment, Scene 13 (p. 124).